The Pioneer is just days away, and all in a rush it was time to actually make the changes to the bikes Imogen Smith and I are taking to The Pioneer for 2018. We’ve both done a number of mountain bike stage races, but this is the most ‘trail’ we have set up our race bikes for any event. Although we’d both happily take the bikes how they are now to the Swiss Epic, back when we did it in 2015!
The Pioneer has a whole lot of climbing, but a lot of steep descending too. The trails aren’t bike park buff, so grip is important – although so is minimal rolling resistance. You really want a very capable bike for a wide variety of terrain. Our Norco Revolvers are just about spot on anyway – but we’ve made some changes to help them along.
Changes to the frame and fork
These stay the same, we’re just on a new colour. The Revolver frames have good reach, a steep seat angle for climbing, internal routing that can take a dropper post, and they’re pretty light at about 2.1kg with a Fox shock in there.
What’s not so great is the head angle. While we loved it at first, in just a few years the bike is too steep. A large has a 70.75 degree head angle, while a medium has 70.5. Some people have pulled their fork travel to 120mm to take a degree off the head angle – our Fox 32 Step Cast forks can’t do that, so we upgraded to Fox 34 Step Cast. This has lifted the travel to 120mm at the front, plus it’s a Boost spaced fork with stiffer legs so it’s much stiffer.
We have both accommodated the change at the front by dropping the stem 1cm. Ideally we would add 5mm to the reach but you have to stop somewhere.
The orange forks are set to polarise opinion – but we think it looks great!
No major change here. I run Shimano XTR Trail, Imogen runs Shimano XTR Race. With over 15kg difference between us our braking needs aren’t the same. Imogen will normally use resin pads but we both have metal pads front and rear, and the front rotors are now 180mm – IceTech all around for better cooling.
You can see we run centrelock rotors as well. Yes, being sponsored by Shimano does lead us that way, but when we were running Valor wheels we used 6 bolt rotors. That’s a lot of bolts to take on and off for travel – and it is so easy to use a centrelock tool that it means you just can’t get a bent rotor at the other end – there is no excuse for not taking them off. We used Shimano rotors and group sets when we weren’t sponsored too, with very few exceptions – they just work.
Shifting and drivetrain
No big change here, we actually run our shifter around the opposite way to each other with Di2. The speed setting is fast, not the very fastest, to help reduce wear and load on the chain over a week of challenging riding. Di2 comes into its own in a long stage race, with shift effort that doesn’t change – ever.
We both have the Shimano 11-46 cassette, and have dropped a chainring size. I’m now on 32t, Imogen is now on 30t. A 32 and 34 are in the spares kit.
The clutch has been tightened barely half a turn, for a little more chain security. We’ll be running Ride Mechanic Bike Syrup unless the Southern Alps get bone dry.
We’ve run KS Lev Ci droppers for years, but are now both on 125mm drop posts. Mine is a Lev Integra – as after getting my last bike stolen in Germany, funds only go so far for a new one. There is very little weight difference.
We are more than happy to have longer droppers on for The Pioneer – but they’re not the sort of thing you’d just put on for the race if you didn’t ride with them any other time. It takes a little while to get used to using them consistently enough that they’re worth the extra weight. Compared to the lightest seat post option, we’re looking at about a 350g penalty. That’s not so bad.
Wheels and tyres
The main change here is rebuilding Imogen’s sweet new EIE wheels onto a Boost front hub. Hubs for both of us are DT Swiss 350 Centrelock, with upgraded lightweight freehub bodies (alloy, not steel). It puts them almost at 240 weight but at a more friendly price point.
Spokes are DT Revolution with Prolock alloy nipples. I’m on a 29mm internal rim that is 25mm deep, while Imogen is on a 25mm internal rim that is 22mm deep. There is about 110g difference, Imogen’s wheels are lighter. We have have the DT Swiss 54t ratchet upgrade in the rear hub.
Tyres have been a source of much concern. We still think an Ardent Race and Ikon can get you through just about any stage race. But Imogen has been racing the Rekon and Rekon Race, and I have been racing the Rekon and Aspen. As we’re flying to New Zealand and they go over your bike with a fine tooth comb at customs – new tyres are easiest.
We both have Rekon 2.25″ on the front, with Aspen 2.25″ on the back. Two Ardent Race are packed as spares if we need more tread. As for pressures, we have a digital gauge with us. I expect Imogen to run 17/19 as usual, maybe half a psi more if we have bags on. I’ll run 18/21 as the wider rim does increase the volume (the casing measures about 2.3mm across more on my rims than Imogen’s if you’re interested).
Differences between the bikes
Besides size, braking systems and tyre pressure, there are not many differences. I run 175mm cranks, Imogen is on 170mm and uses a power meter. Imogen uses dual remote lock out with a push to unlock setup, where as I don’t like the extra cables. Therefore I run an under the bar KS Southpaw dropper lever, Imogen uses an over the bar lever.
Imogen runs her bars at about 690mm and with narrower foam grips too. I run 730mm on the same Mt Zoom bars, with Ritchey foam grips, and run my brake levers a little further in. We both run very light saddles, although I’m not on a Speedneedle like Imogen is. It’s become a favourite over the past 4 years.
Spares and the rest
That’s the hard part! We have most group set items, two tyres, a full set of brake pads each, 3 derailleur hangers and a few quick links. We have small mud guards to ziptie on to the fork and slot into the saddle rails.
We have Kogel ceramic bottom brackets so ideally they cope with being ignored all week. They did last year on my bike. I put marine grease around the headset bearings as they’re just basic drop in units. I have more grease and a couple of spare bearings.
We’ll carry a tube each, and I have a pump mount and quick link. The Pioneer has a long list of mandatory equipment and I don’t think there is a day I will be without a backpack, especially with the weather which is cold and a bit wet. So a multitool, spare lube, mandatory gear etc will go in there. I’ll use either the Camelbak Chase Bike Vest or the the Camelbak Octane 10.
The rest is up to us – we need to survive! Events like this aren’t about going out guns blazing (although we have both done that plenty of times). In this instance, the very fact we are flying to New Zealand was only confirmed this morning. We booked in February but I’ve had a virus, and we’re both worn out at this end of the year. We really are going to need to take it day by day, and ride in a beautiful area with people who enjoy doing the same things.
Make sure you follow the race right here, as Imogen takes control of the keyboard this week.